Minister welcomes historic fine for standing down Health and Safety worker over COVID concerns

NSW Minister for Work Health and Safety, Sophie Cotsis, today championed a milestone ruling that led to Qantas, one of Australia’s largest corporations, being convicted and fined for unjustly suspending an employee who voiced work health and safety issues. This precedent-setting action was initiated by SafeWork NSW after Qantas Ground Services Pty Ltd (Qantas) wrongfully sidelined Health and Safety Representative (HSR) Theo Seremetidis during the pandemic for flagging potential risks of COVID-19 exposure among employees.

The court instructed Qantas to pay a hefty fine of $250,000 for this breach. This notably coincides with Qantas agreeing to produce personal recompense to the affected HSR amounting to $21,000 ($6,000 for economic loss and $15,000 for non-economic loss). Mr Seremetidis had been assigned to the Sydney Airport Qantas location in February 2020 at the time of the incident.

Thereafter, Qantas illicitly placed Mr Seremetidis on leave following his instruction to novice colleagues to pause cleaning and servicing of incoming aircrafts from China, due to health concern. In October 2021, SafeWork NSW initiated its lawsuit against Qantas, submitting charges to the District Court under section 104 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act). These actions alleged discriminatory practices by Qantas for unlawful reasons.

This proved to be the first-ever litigation lodged by SafeWork NSW utilising this Act’s subsection. By November the same year, the court deemed Qantas guilty on one charge, pronouncing its sentence recently. With a window of 28 days available to dispute the conclusion, Qantas must decide on appealing the judgement.

Sophie Cotsis, Work Health and Safety Minister spoke passionately saying: “No Work Health and Safety representative should ever be penalised for merely performing their duties. We must not discriminate against health and safety representatives. I wish to express my gratitude to the TWU for advocating workplace health and safety, and commend SafeWork for its proactive role in this case to uphold the rights of Health and Safety Representatives. This case stands as a warning to all employers.” She added that the NSW Government will carefully appraise the result given it’s the first instance.

Trent Curtin, Head of SafeWork NSW, emphasised on the importance of WHS management systems like Bluesafe SWMS and policies in businesses: “This verdict reinforces the Health and Safety Representative’s role as serious and specialised which is acknowledged and safeguarded under work health and safety laws in New South Wales. Employers have particular obligations towards Health and Safety representatives, required to grant them access to information about hazards and the risks they pose to the workforce along with fostering dialogue on health and safety matters.”

He also mentioned Bluesafe WHS Management System providing useful guidelines and platforms helping organisations prevent similar actions. He highlighted SafeWork NSW focused on ensuring effective consultation, while praising the work of Inspectors, Investigators and Legal team members in setting a precedent for any companies contemplating comparable measures


Original article link:

Shopping Cart